Dear friends, excellencies, delegates,
We are here today because we share two strong beliefs. We believe in gender equality, and we believe that things can change.
Gender equality is not simply a moral duty, and a matter of social justice, of equal access. Granting the same rights to men and women – the very issue that brings us here today – makes our societies richer and more secure. It is a matter of development, and a matter of peace and security, not purely a matter of principles.
When women are empowered, the benefits are perceived by the entire community. When they have access to good education and good jobs, social and economic inequalities are easier to overcome. When women are recognised as full and equal citizens, the whole society is more stable and democracies get stronger. It's part of the resilience of our societies, of our institutions, of our countries.
For these reasons the European Union has worked to put women's and girls' rights at the core of the new Sustainable Development Goals. There is no sustainable development without gender equality – as many world leaders stressed at the recent Global Leaders' Meeting on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in New York last November.
The recognition of this very basic fact was a great achievement. It tells us that change is possible and is happening. This is the second reason that brings us here. We know that our action matters. We know that our engagement can make the difference for women all around our region and the world.
Gender equality is a core component of our foreign policy. And even more so in times when terrorist organisations are turning women into slaves in our very same neighbourhood. They are afraid of empowered women. They are afraid of girls in school. They are afraid of the voice of women, especially when it's loud and clear, as a woman's voice usually is. Protecting and promoting this voice is a political and a moral duty, and it's also a powerful investment in our own security.
Gender equality is linked to peace and security in so many ways. It can deter radicalisation and it can facilitate state-building processes and reconstruction after a civil war. So many women are part of the reconciliation of their countries. The EU and its Member States have a long-standing commitment to the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325, on Women, Peace and Security in our internal and external action.
Our support to girls' rights worldwide has already produced important results. In ten years, 300,000 female students enrolled in secondary education thanks to programmes funded by the European Union. Our global network of delegations is helping us to craft specific programmes to promote gender equality in all continents, country by country.
Still, in past years our commitments did not always translate into strategies. Our new framework for ‘Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment’ for 2016 to 2020 builds on this experience and tries to make a step forward. It is a more ambitious, robust and results-oriented successor to the EU Gender Action Plan 2010-2015.
Its ambition is given by its thematic and regional coverage: it will apply in all EU external relations and policies, cross sectional, including trade and, where relevant, humanitarian assistance, and it will apply in all regions.
For instance, the European Neighbourhood Policy review is already giving particular attention to women's economic empowerment – and as I mentioned it, let me thank our host Georgia for its active contribution to the review in the East. Funds have been provided to gender budgeting in Georgia. In the south, a large regional program on political and economic empowerment of women in the Southern Mediterranean region is on-going.
At the Women's Summit in New York the EU has pledged to include gender-specific actions in all the EU financial instruments – the EU will allocate more than 100 million euros over the next 7 years to gender equality, women and girls' empowerment projects.
And we must aim even higher. As I said, our action matters. And matters in our countries and around the world. And models matter too. Some people believe there is not much we can do to change social norms that negatively impact on the life of women worldwide. I do not agree. A new law or a local leader who speaks up against early or forced marriages can have a huge impact on their own community. It can help to pass the message that a girl has the right to choose her own partner. This is a fundamental human right and no cultural norm can deny it. This issue of cultural relativism is something we need to tackle when it comes to the rights of girls and women.
Norms and attitudes can evolve, if we embrace a cooperative approach with our partners all around the globe.
We don't need to look far away to see that. For many countries in Europe signing the Istanbul Convention was a little “revolution”. I'm proud to have signed the law of ratification when I was member of parliament in Italy, one of the first countries to ratify the Convention. For many of our countries, the Convention is the first legal text which addresses violence against women as a human rights issue. The European Union will keep working with the Council of Europe to promote the swift adoption and ratification of the Convention by all countries on our continent. We need specific laws to prevent violence based on gender and to help the victims. But prevention and cultural messages are key. Let's push forward this revolution on women's rights.
Of course, the road ahead is still very long. I know how hard it can be for a woman to make their way into politics, we know the difficulties. This is something concerning the whole of us, inside the European Union and in our neighbourhood. It is a common issue, which we must address all together. For this reason we are financing projects like “Women in local democracy” in Armenia, and a Study on Women in Power and Decision-Making in the Eastern Partnership Countries.
The preliminary results of the study are an interesting read. They tell us that good quality, affordable child-care is crucial to provide women with more opportunities to work – and it can create additional tax revenues that can compensate the subsidy.
Still, let me say that childcare is key not only for women but first and foremost for children and for both their parents. Also for men. Children are not only their mothers' children but their parents' children.
These results tell us that national policies should identify women as a target group for entrepreneurship. Women and business: there is so much a young woman's creativity can do for the economy, such a transforming power that we can't imagine. Or maybe yes.
This is the right thing to do to pursue our interests. And it is the right thing to do to be coherent to our values. These recommendations are aimed at the Eastern Partnership countries, but they are valid for the whole of us. Our European Union has much to learn on gender equality, far from perfect. Far from perfect. We have much to learn from our cooperation. Let's keep working together with the UN system to the benefit of women, knowing that this will benefit of us all. Thank you.